Technology investment in the mining sector is rapidly increasing, with the sector facing a range of challenges such as declining commodity prices, rising costs and slower demand growth. As a result of these challenges, mining companies have been exploring how various technologies and tools can help support them in improving in areas such as productivity, cost control, resource development, safety, sustainability, supply chain and the development of a more digitally skilled future workforce.
Investments are being made across all parts of the value chain from exploration through to extraction, processing and trade. In exploration, planning and development, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are being applied to drilling data; sensors are being used when drilling to analyse the quality and characteristics of ore in the ground and drones, where regulations permit, are being used for site surveying and mapping. In mining operations, predictive maintenance ensures a more efficient management of mining equipment by identifying issues before they arise. Operators can avoid unscheduled maintenance and downtime, enabled by sensors and AI to learn from machine failures over time. Drones, robots and autonomous vehicles can enhance productivity and reduce the overall need for manpower. In addition, wearables are improving safety on mine sites, with smart helmets, for example, providing key data and warning of dangers. At the processing stages, the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors can be used to monitor the mill feed grade and production whilst digital twins can help to optimise operations and even run a plant autonomously. Finally, when it comes to tailings dams, recent disasters have spurred investment into monitoring, using IoT-enabled devices, sensors and data from drones to help avoid repeats of the recent failures of these structures.
Given the increasing pace of adoption of technology and the emergence of the digital mine, GlobalData has been tracking the extent to which mines have invested in a range of technologies and tools to support productivity, cost reduction and safety. Included within this has been a survey of senior personnel at mine sites where, in the last 2 years, over 400 interviews have been conducted across operating mine sites throughout the globe. The survey examines the degree of investment in 12 areas, from those with more widespread use, such as mine planning and management software, to the more nascent, such as 3D printing for parts, and assesses expectations for investment within the coming 2 years.
The most recent survey was conducted in November 2019 and comprised 180 mines. Examining the extent of investment, mines were asked to rate the degree to which they had invested in a particular technology, from not invested at all, through trialled, to moderate investment and finally to fully implementing the technology. Globally, the areas which had the greatest degree of investment were mine planning software, mine management software and mine communication systems followed by predictive maintenance for plant and mobile machinery. In all cases, at least 50% of the mines surveyed had made considerable investment.
High growth in use of drones and mine communication systems
The largest change was observed in drones, the use of which, regulations permitting, can enable miners to access much larger quantities of data at much reduced costs. In the 2019 survey, 21% of mines had fully implemented the use of drones, compared with 9% in 2018, and 56% had made at least initial investments in comparison to the 44% in 2018.
Other areas where there were significant improvements in the degree of investment were in mine communication systems and autonomous vehicles. Some 61% of mine sites had already made considerable investment or fully implemented mine communication systems, such as private LTE networks or 5G, compared to 55% in 2018. Further investment in communication systems is critical for mines looking to extend levels of automation or deployment of IoT devices, driving the rising use of private LTE networks and 5G as mines seek continued improvements in productivity through higher utilisation.
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Read the article online at: https://www.globalminingreview.com/special-reports/29042020/tech-always-rising/